After confessing to criminal negligence, a former orphanage director avoids further prosecution for ignoring reports about sexual assault foster children. The statute of limitations saved her.
A St. Petersburg court has closed the criminal case against Natalia Fedorova, the former director of Children’s Home Number 10, which spent more than a decade ignoring reports from children about sexual assault by different adults, including the facility’s deputy director. Fedorova confessed to criminal negligence, but the charges’ statute of limitations has now expired. To learn more about the case, Meduza spoke to Dmitry Geradimov, the defense attorney for some of the abuse victims.
In the criminal negligence case against Natalia Fedorova, Dmitry Gerasimov represented a victim named Yakov Yablochnik. He was also Yablochnik’s defense attorney in the child-pornography case against photographer Alexander Brykov. In the main sexual assault case involving Children’s Home Number 10, Gerasimov defended two of the victims.
What were the exact charges against director Fedorova?
She was accused of negligence, specifically of ignoring reports from children in the orphanage about sexual assault. According to the charges, children repeatedly named the same offenders, appealing over and over to the director for many years. The case evidence runs from December 31, 2006, to March 17, 2017.
What was the case evidence against Fedorova?
The smoking gun was her confession. From the very beginning, Fedorova completely agreed with the charges and admitted her guilt. In her testimony, she verified that the children systematically reported sexual assault to her, though she could only remember “about three” specific cases. She recalled that one of the children who came forward was Yakov Yablochnik, whom I represented in this case, but she didn’t remember the others.
Did she explain why she ignored the reports about sexual assault?
Yes. She testified that she didn’t believe the children because some of them “were registered at the psychoneurological dispensary and suffered from degrees of mental disability that manifested in hypersexuality and could lead to sexual fantasies.” In court, she stressed that “any disability specialist” would support her position.
Does your client, Yakov Yablochnik, believe that Fedorova actually knew about the sexual assault?
No. Yakov doesn’t think she knew [what was happening]. He only says that he tried to report sexual assault to the director in 2007, but she was indifferent to the allegations. She refused to listen and didn’t take him seriously.
Did Fedorova apologize in court?
No. She was ill and didn’t come to the first hearing. At the second hearing, she came with her lawyer and submitted a motion to dismiss the case.
The case was dismissed because the statute of limitations expired. Exactly two years has passed since the crime was committed. But that is also precisely when the sexual assault became known and the suspects were charged. Does that mean the case needed to be investigated, prosecuted, and brought to a verdict within two years?
Yes. They would have not only needed to pass a sentence, but that ruling would need to enter force [within the two years].
Is that even technically possible?
It was hard to get it all done in two years. Fedorova might have been convicted in time, but the case was sent back for further investigation in the fall of 2018. The prosecution challenged this ruling, but we lost two months. Maybe we weren’t able to get a verdict because of this. The case finally went to trial in March, when the statute of limitations had already expired, a there was no chance of getting a verdict.
Do you think the case may have been delayed intentionally? After all, Fedorova confessed from the very beginning. Why were two years not enough?
I don’t think anyone dragged it out. Things just didn’t go our way. And it doesn’t really matter. She was never facing any real punishment. The maximum sentence for these charges is two years’ incarceration, but this crime is considered a minor offense, and the law says first-time minor offenders can’t be imprisoned. No matter how hard we tried, there was no locking her up. Far more important is the fact that dismissing the case due to the statute of limitations is not an exonerating circumstance. In other words, it doesn’t mean she’s innocent. On the contrary, she’s confessed, and the commission of the crime has been documented. Of course, she’s still gone free from criminal punishment. She won’t have a criminal record, but the Interior Ministry’s databases will hold records that she was prosecuted.
Has your client responded well to the case’s outcome?
The fact that the case has been dismissed doesn’t mean much to us or to her. Fedorova no longer works at the children’s home — plus these aren’t the charges she needs to worry about, anyway. And we can still file a civil suit. For example, we can press charges against the Education Ministry, because the federal government is responsible for harm inflicted by the orphanage’s officials. We will likely file a lawsuit like this once the main sexual assault case is finished.
How widespread is this situation in Russian case law, when they fail to issue a ruling because the statute of limitations has expired?
It’s not uncommon. It’s happened twice to me in the last year. The statute of limitations is set at two years for minor offenses, meaning crimes where the maximum penalty is three years in prison. More serious statutes of limitation are in place for more serious crimes.
What’s the status of the other criminal cases tied to the sexual assault at the children’s home?
The case against the photographer [Alexander] Brykov was returned to the district attorney, after a judge decided that the charges against him failed to specify how he committed sexual assault against Yakov Yablochnik. I’m not sure the case will return to court in the same form, because the statute of limitations for sexual assault expired in November 2018. More than 10 years have now passed.
Did Brykov confess, too?
The investigation in the main case has also finished. What’s happening there?
In January, a court started examining the merits of the case. Right now, they’re collecting testimony from the second of five victims. There are five defendants in the case, and they’re charged with committing sexual assault different numbers of times. One suspect is accused of a single attack, another is charged with carrying out three attacks, and so on. They all maintain their innocence. I think the case still has a way to go. Maybe we’ll have a verdict by the fall.
What’s the case evidence against them?
The main evidence is the victims’ testimony. In these cases, this is the only kind of serious evidence that’s possible. Too much time has passed, and there were of course no witnesses to the crimes themselves.
There’s no issue with the statute of limitations in this case?
Not at the moment.
What’s your overall sense of this process? From the outside, all this business with expired statutes of limitations and cases returned for further investigation looks pretty strange.
I don’t get the sense that anyone is trying to cover up anything for someone. The process is simply moving forward, and different agencies have different views on this. Actually, what’s strange is when cases go straight to trial and the court reaches a decision right away. In 99 percent of those cases, it’s a guilty verdict.
What punishment are the victims seeking against the defendants?
They want the most severe penalty: up to 15 years in prison. They feel what happened ruined the rest of their lives.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock